These were two long days in the making! I had planned on going to Denali last weekend but ended up being sick Friday and getting stuck Saturday. We were going to take the RV out for it’s 2017 maiden voyage. Josh and I shoveled it out so we could drive it out of it’s snowy ice hole of a parking spot. While Josh was at work I packed up the RV with all the essentials. When he got home we were ready to go! …unfortunately the RV was not as ready… Josh spent 4 hours jumping it and trying to figure out the backup starter. He eventually had to go out and bought a new battery for it. So now we are 5 hours behind schedule. Josh is able to drive the RV out of it’s spot but it gets stuck after about 15 feet.
We spend the next hour or so digging it out again only to reverse it back into its original icy parking spot. We ended up just staying at home and cleaning snow off the roof of the RV and house. It was productive, just not productive in my 100 Days of Denali.
So this weekend rolls around and Friday I spent time with friends and celebrating the juried photo contest, Circumpolar, put on by the UAF Frozen Lenses Photography Club. I was proud to have two pieces in the show out of twenty. During the show I was able to meet some great local photographers and artists. I found it extremely rewarding to get to share some of my photography with others. Hearing people behind me talk about one of my photos was pretty amazing. I ended up getting an Honorable Mention from Juror Jeff Schultz and will have both of the photos published in Last Frontier Magazine! It was a really great night!
Saturday morning rolled around and I packed up the car for the night. I was taking both dogs this weekend, which was definitely a challenge! We got everything in the car and headed out to Denali! It was pretty cloudy up until we got into Healy. The sky opened up and it was a beautiful partly cloudy day in the park.
I stopped and took a quick photo in the canyon before heading down the park road.
We entered the park and slowly made our way up the park road. We didn’t see a lot in the way of animals but we did get to see part of Denali! I am glad I got a photo in because Denali quickly was succumbed by clouds. We made it all the way to mile fifteen without seeing as much as a squirrel. The scenery was beautiful though!
I took the dogs on a brief hike. The dogs tend to pull and when the snow is up to your hips. Being pulled by a dog or dogs may be fun in dogsledding or skijoring, but not when you are being pulled in multiple directions in literal feet of snow. They got to meet some other dogs though and seemed to have a good time smelling each other. Taking a photo of both of them on the walk was nearly impossible.
After the dogs got resettled, I decided to go on a little walk of my own! I walked on down to the river’s edge to see some icicles. I felt with this being break up season and everything melting, it would be nice to get some photos of the icicles from the Savage River! It was a short little hike but it took awhile because of how thick the snow was.
After I got back to the car we drove up and down the road. We saw some more pristine scenery. I decided I wanted to go on another hike. We went back to mile 15 and I started hiking the Savage River trail. I found some “Alaska” water and some spectacular sights! I then hiked up top of the rocks at the beginning of the Alpine Trail. This is where Josh and I snowshoed up to two weeks ago! There is now an okay packed down trail leading up. I saw a raven family who I am guessing is nesting in the rocks. Most of the weekend I saw at least one raven in the area on top of the rocks. I was the only one up there and it was pretty peaceful watching the sunset illuminate the mountains. I slowly slid myself down the hill and fed the dogs. We ate some dinner and hung out in the car waiting for dark in hopes of seeing the Aurora!
We ended up napping until eleven when my alarm went off. I looked up to see what the sky conditions were and unfortunately there were thick clouds. No Aurora tonight! I turned on the car and headed back to the entrance to car camp with the pouches. On our way in we ended up abruptly stopping after turning a corner because two moose were on the road! They didn’t seem like they wanted to let us go by either. They walked for awhile in front of us but eventually did run off up into the woods. Also on our way to the campground, we saw a snowshoe hare! We got back to the campground and went to bed. We all snuggled, I didn’t even make Elias sleep in his kennel. I was quite worried what was going to happen letting him loose at night, but he actually was really great! The only negative was that he decided he wanted to lay across my entire pillow and I didn’t get to use it.
I woke up many times throughout the night but I never did turn the car on. My body wasn’t that cold, but my head got cold. I did not sleep well. I woke up at 7:40am and decided to get up for the day! The dogs didn’t seem to mind. I let them out and loaded them right back up.
We headed back into the park and day 15 started out with an odd red squirrel. It was hard to miss, hanging out in the middle of the road. I pulled up to it and it didn’t move. If I hadn’t seen it moving earlier I would have thought it was dead! I got out and it was still just hanging out right in front of my car. I took a few photos and it scampered off to the edge of the road. I kept taking photos and then it came back up to my car! It started licking the tires! AND then it got up IN my TIRE!? It was a very odd squirrel.
We left the squirrel after it finally ran up into a tree and headed on further into the park. I was traveling super slow, making sure not to miss anything. I was around mile marker 7 when all of a sudden… I saw it… a Ptarmigan!!! My first white, beautiful, snowy Ptarmigan. Some people may think I am a little off being so excited about a small, chicken-like bird, but it is pretty awesome to see the wintery white bird who is actually the state bird of Alaska! A car buzzed right past me while I was photographing it. I was thinking they were the odd ones for driving so quickly and past such a cool bird. I took quite a few photos of the ptarmigan before it walked off using its furry white feet!
I drove further up the road and part of Denali was out, this time the bottom half of the mountain was showing. So between both days I was able to see all of Denali! I drove past mile 13, and low and behold, two more ptarmigan! I couldn’t believe it! So many ptarmigan! We drove to mile 15 where we had our breakfast and then started heading out of the park. We didn’t make it about a half mile before I saw a really pretty Raven perched up on a rock. I stopped for some photos. While I was stopped I ended up hearing a pika!
I searched up and down the rocks until I finally found something moving. Can you spot the pika? A pika is the smallest member of the rabbit family. They seem to be on rocky, hilly surfaces.
I debated for about a minute on whether I should try and climb the hill to see the pika a little closer. I thought about how it probably wasn’t super safe to be climbing by myself up a steep rocky and snowy hill, but my adventurous side got the best of me. Before I knew it, I was half way up to the little guy! I actually ended up above him, but over to the side. I didn’t get that close before he ran off. As soon as I was on my way down he came back out, of course! I took another photo before very carefully and slowly making my way down. It always seems to be easier going up than down. I got back to the car and definitely felt relieved that I had made it!
I drove on only to find more ptarmigan!!! This time I saw one all white ptarmigan and one white with a little brown ptarmigan. I hung out with these two for awhile. I was actually photographing the all white one when the other one made a noise behind me! I had no idea he was even back there! He didn’t have the best lighting but he was a beautiful bird. After enjoying hearing the ptarmigans and watching them run on the snow I headed back to car and out of the park. We didn’t see any moose or larger mammals, but I truly enjoyed the incredible things we did get to see! Any day you can see part of the mountain, is a stellar day in my book!
On these two days I learned how difficult it can be to manage both dogs at the same time on walks, especially in the deep snow! I learned Elias won’t tear my car apart if he is out of the kennel in the car at night (at least he didn’t do it that night). I also learned to appreciate company on these trips. I enjoyed hiking and climbing by myself. I actually felt it was a little therapeutic, being out in the wilderness by myself, listening to the sounds of nature all around me. It did make me appreciate it when I do have another person to talk and share these memories with. I am excited to have more of my friends and fellow adventurists come join me in the coming weeks! I do appreciate that I have two great furry traveling companions who listen pretty well, keep my driver’s seat warm when I go on hikes, and who try and keep me a little warm at night.
I had two photo goals this weekend for Day 14 & 15:
Goal 1: To see and photograph a new critter! CHECK
Goal 2: Take a HIKE! Literally, get out and clear my busy mind! CHECK
I have been pretty lucky on my adventures and hope I can keep up this incredible luck and fun! I am already done with 15% of my adventures in Denali this year!